As a three-year-old—and also a Brit—I was not particularly paying attention when, 25 years ago today, Star Trek: Voyager began its sojourn out of the Delta Quadrant on UPN. My path to discovering it, and Star Trek at large, was appropriately a bit more circuitous.
I can’t remember when exactly I first saw Voyager, but I can remember the moment—it was a Saturday afternoon watching TV, flicking over to the cable channel Sky One, which, to my young mind was basically “that channel that had The Simpsons on all the time.” I was young. I liked Star Wars, the special editions had just come out. I loved The Simpsons. I’d never heard of a phaser, or a transporter, or Jean-Luc whatever-he-was. That Saturday, I hankered for some Simpsons. Instead, I got this weird show with some horrifyingly creepy, plagued aliens on it.
They were called Vidiians, and they were scary—they had zapped organs out of this other alien, Neelix, one of the good guys’ crew, and they had weird melty faces. But there was also a sadness to it all for my young mind. They didn’t do what they did because they were cruel, they did it out of necessity, and their appearance was not because they were monstrous, but ravaged by disease. What I had sat down to watch, to be confused but ultimately enchanted by, was a repeat in syndication of “Phage,” the fifth episode of Voyager’s first season.
There was an episode right after that (I presume “The Cloud,” introducing me to Janeway’s iconic line about coffee and nebulas, but I don’t recall). Turned out, they showed two episodes of Voyager in a block on Saturday afternoons, and from that moment on, I sat there, no longer tuning in just for my Simpsons fix, but a trip to the Delta Quadrant. A chance to hear Captain Janeway trade wry smiles and devastating barbs with beings from strange new worlds, to relish in Tuvok’s cleverness and the fact that he was cool and standoffish but really, deep down, liked everyone on the bridge. To watch Lieutenant Torres fix things and get mad about it all, but also be open about her vulnerabilities, too. To watch Neelix and The Doctor be goofy. To watch Harry Kim go through so much shit and never get promoted beyond Ensign.
Star Trek: Voyager is not the best Star Trek show. It never really does enough with its premise of being stranded far from Federation contact or the logistical considerations of keeping the titular ship going, not to mention the intrapersonal conflict of integrating Chakotay and his crew of rogue Maquis dissidents into Janeway’s crew of Starfleet officers. These are ideas raised and promptly chucked out of the window early on to just do “the Star Trek-y thing.”
Kes and Neelix, alien pickups from the Delta Quadrant in the pilot episode, are never really used as interesting insights into Starfleet and Federation culture, they just quickly become part of Voyager’s world. Its most interesting addition, Seven of Nine, becomes one of its greatest flaws as the show progresses, with the Borg becoming less of a rare, ominous threat and instead a recurring, easily beatable foe, robbing them of some of their lingering sense of dread (Seven remains excellent, however, needlessly skimpy sparkle skinsuits aside).
As I grew up and explored Star Trek more, I found a series that has come to mean so much to me. I fell in love with the retro charms of the original series, as a teenager I relished the dark, challenging complexity of Deep Space Nine. I finally, so afraid of its lofty reputation for so long, sat down and watched The Next Generation—turns out people are right, that show’s pretty fantastic! I love Discovery, as messy as it can be. I love Star Trek 2009, even if its sequels leave much to be desired. Star Trek: Enterprise is indeed a thing that exists (not for me, but you do you, fans! Have that faith of the heart and whatnot).
But if Deep Space Nine is the Star Trek of my head—the favorite I’ll say to sound somewhat clever or mature, or whatever nonsense trait having a “good” favorite Star Trek show should insinuate—Voyager will forever be the Star Trek of my heart. My first love. My window into this world, and this loving cast of characters, forced by their situation to become more than just adversaries or work colleagues, but instead a family sailing the sea of stars. My Captain—o, my Captain (sorry Jim, Jean-Luc, Ben, Jonathan, and, err, Saru maybe?).
Twenty-five years later, I will be forever grateful for that Saturday afternoon where I turned in expecting yellow cartoon people and instead got some melty faced aliens. Happy birthday, Voyager. Thank you for introducing me to the boldly goings-on of Star Trek.
Pour yourself a good, strong coffee, and share your memories of Voyager on its quarter-century celebration in the comments below!
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